Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 13min

Note: Cat People was watched only by Sister the Oldest, as Sister the Youngest had once again fucked off to Oslo, this time to do exams. How very selfish of her, trying to get an education when there are films to be watched.

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Irina Dubrovna (Simon) is a Serbian fashion sketch artist working on ideas in a New York zoo when she strikes up a conversation with Oliver Reed (Smith – not actor Oliver Reed). They fall in love and get married despite Irina’s conviction that she is a descendant of a coven of devil worshipping witches who turn into cats when aroused or angry.

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“We cannot consummate our marriage. Or kiss. And you shouldn’t make me angry. But other than that, we’ll have a perfectly ordinary marriage, I’m sure!”

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Now, in Irina’s defence, this is not a condition she wants, but she believes the superstitions of her Serbian village and does not want to risk hurting herself or her husband. She agrees to go to therapy to help save her marriage, but it does not do much to help her, especially since her therapist’s idea of a cure is kissing his patient. Very unhippocratic.

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“It’s a new kind of therapy – all up to code and medically approved, I assure you. Now, take off your clothes.”

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To complicate their lives further, Reed’s colleague Alice Moore (Randolph) is in love with him, and since things aren’t going too well at home, he falls for her as well. Irina suspects an affair and gives in to her inner desires to stalk and prey on Alice, who does indeed seem to be followed by a large cat.

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Even in the pool. How rude!

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As the plot thickens, Oliver and Alice keep treating Irina as a child in one instance, a mentally unstable woman in the next, and then as a dangerous threat. It’s no wonder she becomes a bit unhinged and wants revenge on them for shutting her out and starting an affair. There’s nothing inherently bad about her, but she is never taken seriously or treated as an equal by her husband which causes her to snap.

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And what better way to plot vengeance than in a deserted, foggy New York street

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It’s never really clear whether Irina is right or not. She certainly seems to think she turns into a large, predatory cat when angry, upset or turned on, and Alice and Oliver are eventually convinced as well. The ambiguity is one of the main strengths of the film though, and not having clear answers makes it more intriguing than a straight-forward horror film about a shapeshifting woman. What comes across clearly however, is that no one really thinks of Irina as a grown, independent woman – even her therapy sessions consist of her being put in a trance so she has no memory of what she tells her doctor. Despite the fact that she moved to the USA alone and made a career for herself before meeting her husband, everyone seems to think she’s too fragile to be treated like an adult. Probably due to the fact that (they think) she believes in fairy tales, but still.

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We suppose when you marry a cat woman you’re either looking for a pet or a sex kitten. And when she won’t conform to either – well, it’s time to cut her loose.

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Now, I might be reading a bit much into this (I blame my literature background), but it’s hard not to get analytical about this film. What I’m trying to say is that I loved Cat People and I am looking forward to more Tourneur. Which is coming up very soon in I Walked with a Zombie. Yay!

What we learned: don’t have an affair with a man whose wife might be a murderous shapeshifter. Also, don’t treat your wife as a child.

Next time: Road to Morocco (1942)

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6 thoughts on “#59 Cat People

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